A cabal is a number of people united in some close design, usually to promote their private views and interests in a church, state, or other community, often by intrigue. Cabals are sometimes secret societies composed of a few designing persons, and at other times are manifestations of emergent behavior in society or governance on the part of a community of persons who have well established public affiliation or kinship. The term can also be used to refer to the designs of such persons or to the practical consequences of their emergent behavior, and also holds a general meaning of intrigue and conspiracy. Its usage carries strong connotations of shadowy corners, back rooms and insidious influence; a cabal is more evil and selective than, say, a faction, which is simply selfish. Because of this negative connotation, few organizations use the term to refer to themselves or their internal subdivisions. Among the exceptions is Discordianism, in which the term is used to refer to an identifiable group within the Discordian tradition.
Origins of the word
The term cabal
derives from Kabbalah
(a word that has numerous spelling variations), the mystical interpretation of the Hebrew
scripture, and originally meant either an occult
doctrine or a secret
. It was introduced into English in the publication of Cabala
, a curious medley of letters and papers of the reigns of James and Charles I that appeared in 1654.
Association with Charles II
The term took on its present meaning from a group of ministers of King Charles II of England
(Sir Thomas Clifford
, Lord Arlington
, the Duke of Buckingham
, Lord Ashley
, and Lord Lauderdale
), whose initial letters coincidentally spelled CABAL, and who were the signers of the public Treaty of Dover
that allied England to France in a prospective war against the Dutch. It must be said, however, that the so-called Cabal Ministry
can hardly be seen as such — the Scot Lauderdale was not much involved in English governance
at all; while the Catholic ministers of the Cabal, Clifford and Arlington, were never much in sympathy with the Protestants, Buckingham and Ashley, nor did Buckingham and Ashley get on very well with each other. Thus, the "Cabal Ministry
," never really unified in its members' aims and sympathies, fell apart by 1672; Lord Ashley, who became Earl of Shaftesbury, later became one of Charles II's fiercest opponents. The explanation that the word originated as an acronym
from the names of the group of ministers is a folk etymology
, although the coincidence was noted at the time and could possibly have popularized its use. The group, who came to prominence after the fall of Charles's first prime minister, Lord Clarendon
, in 1667, was rather called the Cabal because of its secretiveness and lack of responsibility to the "Country party" then out of power.
Use in relation to Computers and Usenet
During the rise of Usenet
, the term was used as a semi-ironic description of the efforts of people to maintain some order over the chaotic, anarchic Usenet community; see backbone cabal
. As in this specific case, references to an alleged cabal often fall within the realm of conspiracy theory
Valve Software, the creators of games such as Half-Life, use "Cabal Rooms" when working on projects such as new games or bug fixes. These rooms usually comprise 10-15 people, many computers and design technologies, and at least one whiteboard. (See adjacent image).
Two recent examples of the use of the word Cabal came in an accusation by former Secretary of State Colin Powell's
chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson
, who claimed that the Bush administration's
foreign policy is run by a "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" implying a sinister intent. And the second by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has rallied the world community to support UN sanctions against Zimbabwe, denouncing the regime's leaders as a "criminal cabal".
Currently on the Comedy Central
program The Daily Show
, the phrase "a global cabal of Jews
" is referenced from time to time, as a spoof on antisemitic conspiracy theories
. The existence or otherwise of cabals has led to the Internet phenomenon
originating on Usenet
, "TINC" (standing for There Is No Cabal
). Many Masonic conspiracy theories
have pictured Freemasonry
as an international secret cabal.
Other negative words that arose from descriptions of religious extremism or religious sects include: